Traffic (2000) Director: Steven Soderbergh
Based on a 1989 British television show called Traffik, a masterpiece theater series that tracked the movement of heroin from Turkish fields to the streets of Europe, Steven Soderbergh’s 2000 film Traffic explores the global dilemma of the international drug trade as it affects various people inside and outside the United States. The unique cinematography and editing in Traffic shows a remarkably bipolar world: the color tint in Mexico is yellow to convey a dusty desert akin to the wild west, whereas in the United States scenes are color-tinted blue to indicate cold, sterile, hopeless environs. Scenes in Mexico are portrayed as lawless and dangerous, whereas scenes in the U.S. are portrayed as calloused and unforgiving. Soderbergh won an Academy Award for Best Director for Traffic, and the film itself was nominated for Best Picture.
In the film we meet two Mexican cops (played by Benicio del Toro and Jacob Vargas) who encounter a corrupt army general dealing drugs; in the United States we meet two federal agents chasing a middleman in the drug chain who works under the umbrella organization of a millionaire kingpin posing as a legitimate businessman (Steven Bauer) and we also meet his philanthropist/socialite wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The most important character in the film is a conservative Ohio judge who is tapped to serve as the White House’s drug czar (Michael Douglas) but underneath his nose his own daughter quickly develops a drug habit with her preppy elitist high school friends that spirals out of control. In the end, he finds her in a decrepit building prostituting herself to fuel her drug addiction, and he decides to simply “listen” in an effort to solve the problem.
Traffic smells suspiciously of a “message” movie to me. It contains some of the nauseating imagery of Requiem for a Dream (released that same year) and all the moralizing of 2005’s Crash along with the predictable deconstruction of the American middle class found in 1999’s American Beauty. Despite some good performances and clear technical proficiency behind the camera, I would suggest passing on this film.